NOTE: Again, this was one of the first reviews I wrote for this thing, and I forgot to get screencaps. Please forgive me.
About two-thirds of the way through Deep Rising, I turned to DG and, referring to the role of protagonist Treat Williams, said, “I think Kurt Russell would have been good in this.” In fact, the role seemed so much like Russell’s roles in movies like The Thing, Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China that I went looking on the Web to see whether Russell had been offered the role and if John Carpenter had ever been attached to direct. I found no evidence for either theory, though apparently Harrison Ford was offered the Williams role (and presumably said, “Wait, is this a rip-off of Aliens or Speed 2? Either way, not interested”). The film was directed by Stephen Sommers, who handled the enjoyable Mummy, the slightly less enjoyable Mummy Returns, and the not-so-enjoyable Van Helsing.
As I explained in my review of Leviathan, I enjoy watching monster flicks on lazy weekend afternoons. On Labor Day last month I found myself with a couple hours to kill and remembered I’d had to choose between Leviathan and Deep Rising on On Demand the previous weekend. Since I was still waiting on Netflix to deliver Deepstar Six, I decided to check out Deep Rising.
I enjoyed Leviathan. It isn’t a classic by any stretch and I’m amazed that legal action wasn’t taken for how closely it borrowed from the script for Alien, but it had some good actors and some great special effects (especially the monster by Stan Winston). As a longtime fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I’m often able to get enjoyment out of films that many people would probably turn off ten minutes in. I got some mild enjoyment out of relatively soulless Hollywood schlock like Anaconda and Snakes on a Plane.
But Deep Rising left me cold. It made me feel like I’d wasted my lazy weekend afternoon, which is the only thing I ask these flicks not to do. Once the Kurt Russell idea had occurred to me, I decided that if he and Carpenter had made this movie in the mid-1980s, it might have worked. As the 1998 equivalent of Snakes—a B-movie with a bigger budget than is good for it, complete with CGI-beasties—Deep Rising sinks.
I could rag on Williams for being a store brand Kurt Russell, but I think that would be an unfair put-down on Williams, who did a decent job in the role—it was just written so much like Russell’s roles in the movies mentioned above. Other characters include a Beautiful Thief (Famke Janssen), an Asshole Mercenary (Wes Studi), a Rich Jerk (Anthony Heald), and Kevin J. O’Connor as the rare, much-dreaded Comic Relief Character Who Isn’t Funny At All, Yet Because He’s the Comic Relief Character He Just Won’t Die (we’ll call him Die for short).
The plot, near as I can figure it, involves the Asshole Mercenary and his band of merry men (which includes Djimon Hounsou, presumably waiting out the dark ages between Amistad and Gladiator) enlisting Treat Williams and Die (who appear to run some sort of shady Han Solo-esque operation) and their high-tech boat to take them to a cruise ship run by the Rich Jerk. Oh yeah, and they have big scary torpedoes for some reason. Meanwhile, someone sabotages the cruise ship and shuts it down. Before Asshole Mercenary can even get there, some thing attacks the boat.
I feel for those mercenaries. Man, if I had a nickel for every time I was trying to pull off a complicated tactical assault on a passenger vehicle and a monster attacks it before I can even get there, I’d—wait, I’d have nothing.
And herein lies the biggest problem with Deep Rising: it belongs to a rare genre of films, so rare in fact that I can only think of one other, in which it starts out as one sort of movie and then becomes a monster flick. That other movie is From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, which is an entertaining crime-on-the-run film until a bunch of vampires show up out of nowhere.
I can understand a movie about terrorists taking over a ship (Under Siege anyone?) and I can understand a movie in which a monster attacks a cruise liner. But both at the same time? I already have to suspend my belief to buy into the monster’s existence. Do we really need the subplot about Asshole Mercenary and company? They seem to exist primarily to allow the filmmakers to rip-off Aliens as well as every other movie they can get their hands on.
The monsters are forgettable too—fake-looking CGI-generated beasties who move about the cruise ship defying all logic and reason, especially since they appear to be little more than tentacles anchored to the same single super-beastie (which reminds me, there’s more than a little ripping-off of Tremors in here too—in fact you could almost call this “Tremors at sea”).
The characters are either forgettable (in the case of Williams or Asshole Mercenary) or annoying (Die). The one bright spot is Janssen, who is given absolutely nothing to do except look fantastic, but she does that very well.
Again, for some reason I think this mess of a movie might have worked had Carpenter and Russell teamed up on it. But as it stands, it’s a predictable, dull monster movie with no original sequences and, worst of all, boring monsters. It makes Deep Blue Sea look good, which is a crime punishable by law in some countries.
Now that I’ve reviewed all three movies in the Sea Monster Trilogy, I’ll rank them accordingly:
Deepstar Six ends up the winner, getting a slight edge over Leviathan for being slightly more enjoyable thanks to some genuine tension and camp elements. Ultimately, however, I can’t in all good conscience recommend any of them to anyone but the most avid monster movie fan—you’re better off seeing the (much better) films they borrow from, such as Alien, The Thing and Tremors.